Skip to main content

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the dark heart of other people's marriages?

I have. Constantly. Not in the sense that I actually, you know, picture my friends having sex. Rather, I wonder about other people's marriages for the same reason I sometimes describe what I'm doing, out loud, even when there's no one around to hear me. "I'm having a large bag of prawn crackers for dinner tonight because I feel like it," I'll announce loudly to an empty kitchen. I do this to figure out if what I'm doing sounds even remotely normal. "That's plausible," I'll think after I've said it. Or less often, "Hmm, maybe a bit crazy."

Same goes for other people's marriages. My insatiable curiosity about relationships in which I will never be included is mostly about finding a stick against which to measure my own.

Which brings me to the point of this column, which is date nights. Specifically, the date night that every couple I know is going on, or has just been on: to see David Fincher's Gone Girl.

Like everyone else (8.5 million copies of Gillian Flynn's novel have sold since it was released in 2012), I read the book. As I'm sure you know by now, it chronicles the story of an outwardly perfect marriage between two extremely good-looking people that is actually a toxic web of sociopathic deception. And like everyone else, I wanted to see the movie. Like everyone else, I thought, "Now there's a film my spouse and I should definitely see together."

Except that my husband left work early one day this week and, without telling me, saw it on his own. The selfishness! The betrayal! I tried to arrange to see it with a friend, but everyone I called had either seen it, or was planning to see it with the person they were married to or currently sleeping with (in a few cases, these were happily one and the same). The box-office numbers ($37.5-million U.S. in domestic sales on opening weekend) confirm the Gone Girl stampede. Now that's what I call a successful date-night movie.

Sitting in the theatre on my own this week, jumbo bag of stale, oily popcorn half-eaten beside me, I considered why it was my husband and I have never been particularly good at date nights. Or maybe we are, depending on how you look at it. We go out together a couple of times a week, but we don't call them dates the way we did when we were, well, dating. And we certainly don't sit in restaurants talking about our feelings the way I imagine you're supposed to on a date night. Nor do we have a standing weekly babysitter booked – say Friday night – the way many of my married friends do. Also, we talk about the kids, which I gather is a big date-night no-no.

Should I be scheduling more enforced romance into our lives? I say "I" because I've noticed it's almost always women who seem to be in charge of date nights. You don't see men posting pictures of their date nights on Facebook or using it as an earnest excuse not to hang out with friends. (Can you imagine a guy – any guy – saying "Sorry dude, can't watch the game, I've got a date night," without rolling his eyes and laughing?)

Clearly, scheduled romance works for some people, but in my experience, getting overly control-freaky about that sort of thing can lead to disappointment. Plus there's the issue of scheduling. I can barely organize the boys' play-dates (speaking of which, whatever happened to just "playing"?), let alone my own romantic ones. My husband and I like to go with the flow when it comes to spending time alone together, and so far, the results have been more than satisfying. Except, of course, when somebody goes and selfishly sees the date-night movie of the decade all on his own. Spontaneity, like all things, has its limits.

But I have a theory as to why Gone Girl – a movie about how even a seemingly blissful marriage can in fact be absolute horror show – is the romantic outing of the year. I suspect this very dark and cynical examination of the toxic underbelly of modern marriage actually makes us feel good. "He can be bad," we think, "but at least he's not that twisted." The perfect date night movie is not one that makes us feel inferior or bereft (after looking at Ryan Gosling's abs or Scarlett Johansson's breasts), but one that leaves us feeling smug and lucky to have ended up with someone kind and (thankfully) boring enough not to slowly and systematically ruin our lives for their own personal amusement.

This, I think, is the stick by which we measure our own marriages – the dark and dirty secret of the date night. It might be enforced romance, but it's better than coming home to a crime scene. Dinner and a movie has definitely got to be better than that.